RICHMOND, Va. — It’s slowly taking over Facebook — and experts are warning the “Secret Sisters Gift Exchange” is simply a new version of an old pyramid scam. Do a quick search on Facebook for “Secret Sisters Gift Exchange” and you will see thousands of posts about the gift exchange. The messages first started showing up on Facebook, Pinterest and various message boards in early October, according to Snopes.com.
Participants are promised they will receive 36 gifts after only sending one gift valued at $10. Here’s an example:
Welcome to our secret sister gift exchange! Here’s how it works:
1) Send one gift value at least $10 to secret sister #1 below.
2) Remove secret sister’s name from #1; then move secret sister #2 to that spot.
3) Add your name to #2 with your info.
4) Then send this info to 6 other ladies with the updated name info
5) Copy the secret sister request that I posted on my wall, to your own wall. If you cannot complete this within 1 week please notify me, as it isn’t fair to the ladies who have participated and are waiting for their own gifts to arrive. You might want to order directly from a web-based service (Amazon, or any other online shop) which saves a trip to the post office. Soon you should receive 36 gifts! What a deal, 36 gifts for giving just one! Be sure to include some information about yourself … some of your favorites. Seldom does anyone drop out because it’s so much fun to send a gift to someone you may or may not know … and of course it’s fun to receive. You should begin receiving gifts in about 2 weeks if you get your letters out to your 6 people right away.
The idea behind the “exchange” is similar to chain letter gift exchanges that were popular in the 90s and email chain letters that were common in the early 2000s.
While many participants have shared on social media they received at least one gift after participating in the “exchange,” no one has shared proof they actually received the promised 36 gifts, according to Snopes.
Despite the probability that most participants will never receive the promised avalanche of holiday gifts, it’s also worth noting gift chains are illegal.
According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service:
“There’s at least one problem with chain letters. They’re illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants. Chain letters are a form of gambling, and sending them through the mail (or delivering them in person or by computer, but mailing money to participate) violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute. (Chain letters that ask for items of minor value, like picture postcards or recipes, may be mailed, since such items are not things of value within the meaning of the law.”